More people should visit Antarctica, metaphorically speaking, on their own. That is one of the conclusions I have reached, one of my recommendations: explore something, even if it’s just a bookshelf. Make a stab in the dark. Read off the beaten path. Your attention is precious. Be careful of other people trying to direct how you dispense it. Confront your own values. Decide what it is you are looking for and then look for it. Perform connoisseurship. We all need to create our own vocabulary of appreciation, or we are trapped by the vocabulary of others. Intensity, uniqueness, variety, specificity—these are qualities I value, but perhaps you will not. Size is important to me: capaciousness in a work of fiction, length in a career. What do you value? Why? Does reading have more merit than any other way of passing time? Is it useful to read randomly? alone? in discussion groups? bad books? old books? new? I wish that literary criticism could be built back up on the ground of experience, closer to book reviewing than academic theory, with a bias toward enthusiasm, with new Matthew Arnolds putting in their two cents about the best that was ever thought and said and new Nabokovs and Wilsons puncturing cant.
Phyllis Rose, The Shelf, p. 215
Every time you read a work of fiction, you are committing an acte gratuit, a gratuitous act that proves your freedom. Novels and stories, as Jane Smiley has pointed out, can only attract, never coerce. ‘To read fiction is to do something voluntary and free, to exercise choice over and over.’ Of course, some of us get the habit of reading in school, where reading is the reverse of free: it is assigned and required. So freedom has to be acquired or reacquired in later life. But instead of urging us to venture forth on our own, our consumer culture tries to persuade us always to sign up for guided tours, to do what someone else may profit from our doing. Only libraries promote random reading through their open stacks and that ultimately random system of organization, alphabetical order. Otherwise, in all realms, literary and literal, the guided tour prevails.
Phyllis Rose, The Shelf, p. 215
You cannot know at a book’s birth if it will become a classic. It will be a classic if it appeals to generation after generation of readers, and you would be able to know that only if you could hover in eternity and watch. Hovering over a work of fiction for merely a lifetime is the job of the literary critic, who is to a book reviewer as a pediatrician is to a midwife. The midwife is for a one-time event. The literary critic is for the life of the book. A book reviewer tells you, when a book first appears, whether he or she believes it is worth your time. The literary critic sees to your relationship with the book later. He or she tries to make sure that people continue to discuss a work as years go by. By talking about it over and over, through the years and centuries, we help to nudge it into eternal life. If we go on reading it, it is worthy to be read, proving itself to be not of an age, but for all time.
Phyllis Rose, The Shelf, p. 181
lifeinpoetry
Prose is about what can be said and what is known and so on. Poetry is about what cannot be expressed. I mean, terrible grief, or intense erotic feeling, or even unspeakable anger are all inexpressible. You can’t put them in words and that’s why you try to put them in words. Because that’s all you’ve got.
W. S. Merwin, in an interview with Joel Whitney (via weissewiese)
I believe there is one fundamental dream that unites the dream of Jeremiah with the more famous dreams of Joseph before him and Daniel after him. And that is, the dream that God will yet bring his children out of exile, out of the place where their sin or the sin of others has placed them, and bring them to a true home, a home of friendship with God, with the knowledge of what it has taken to get there, and the deeper knowledge that, if it cost us something, it cost God so much more.
Samuel Wells, Learning to Dream Again, p. 214
slaughterhouse90210
slaughterhouse90210:

“The abiding American myth of the self-made man comes attached to another article of faith—an insistence, even—that every self-made man can sustain whatever self he has managed to make. A man divided—thwarting or interrupting his own mechanisms of survival—fails to sustain this myth, disrupts our belief in the absolute efficacy of willpower, and in these failures often forfeits his right to our sympathy. Or so the logic goes. But I wonder why this fractured self shouldn’t warrant our compassion just as much as the self besieged? Or maybe even more?”—Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams

slaughterhouse90210:

“The abiding American myth of the self-made man comes attached to another article of faith—an insistence, even—that every self-made man can sustain whatever self he has managed to make. A man divided—thwarting or interrupting his own mechanisms of survival—fails to sustain this myth, disrupts our belief in the absolute efficacy of willpower, and in these failures often forfeits his right to our sympathy. Or so the logic goes. But I wonder why this fractured self shouldn’t warrant our compassion just as much as the self besieged? Or maybe even more?”
—Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams